Staycation, a post-financial crisis neologism, had firmly rooted itself in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary changing the American tourism scene for a long time to come if not forever. Nearly three years later, many families still prefer staying put over transatlantic and West Coast flights. But is there anything in between? Where can a sophisticated urban traveller go for a friends’ getaway or a family trip without spending a fortune?
Well, good things come in small packages. Consider smaller cities with lower hotel rates, cheaper food and inexpensive admission prices. Consider drivable destinations, even if some of them require an overnight stop on the way. Consider Cleveland.
A metropolis with a population of four hundred thousand, Cleveland was ranked by The Economist as one of the most livable cities in the country as well as the best business meetings spot in the continental U.S. For its relatively small size, this inconspicuous Mid-Western gem offers surprisingly more than one expects. The Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art boasts Asian, African and European collections. Curated by president and pilot Connie Luhta, International Women’s Air & Space Museum educates you about the history of aviation, the race to space, and the impressive understated role of women in it.
Foodies will have a hard choice between Happy Dog with its gourmet hotdogs and fifty-topping choice, and The Flying Fig known for its fresh and natural menu. Equally tempting is the decision between Lilly’s Handmade Chocolates and the award-winning Great Lakes Brewing Company, famous for its Christmas Ale, the annual supply of which gets sold out by November after hitting the stores in August.
And if that does not sound good enough, there is an absolutely unique Cleveland attraction: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where a collection of artifacts ranges from Aretha Franklin’s sparkly hats to Johnny Ramone’s guitar to Lady Gaga’s meat dress, chemically preserved for all eternity.
For the active lifestyle lovers, Cleveland offers city bike tours as well as kayaking and water skiing on Lake Erie (Great Lakes Touring Company and Great Lakes Water Sports), but don’t forget to take sunscreen and plenty of water. For water sports, pack swimsuits, towels, and a change of clothes in case you get wet. For biking, opt for comfortable pants or shorts. Nicknamed The Forest City, Cleveland is eco-conscious: the city authority recently completed its first bicycle commute center where green commuters can leave their gear in lockers, park their zero-emission vehicles and shower before heading to the office. They also enjoy “equal opportunity commuting subsidies” – monthly transportation supplements similar to free parking or mass transit cards from their employers.
For the animal lovers and families with kids there is the Cleveland Zoo, famous for its new 5-acre African Elephant Crossing exhibit where visitors can literally cross paths with five enormous pachyderms as they migrate from range to range. Arrive before 11am and you may even feed a few leaves of organic lettuce to a giraffe. Be quick with your camera and you may catch a leaping wallaby – the kangaroo’s smaller cousin. You will also meet a koala and learn that it is one of the most expensive animals to feed for eucalyptus does not grow in Ohio. Characterized by remarkable cleanliness, few lines and little crowds, the zoo offers a pleasant visit which can turn into an all-day trip. The zookeepers explain that weekends are typically not busy while the craziest day of the week is Monday because admission is free.
For the extreme entertainment junkies, Cedar Point is a must! Deemed the best amusement park in the world by Amusement Today for the past thirteen years, Cedar Point is located in Sandusky, a narrow peninsula jutting into Lake Erie, offering a mile-long white sand beach and six resorts in addition to over 75 thrilling rides. Among them are the famous 320-foot-tall Millennium Force, the twisting Maverick and the new 301-foot-tall Wind Seeker which will spin the riders in open swings right by the water with the best view of sunset ever. There also is a gamut of roller coasters and activities designed for the younger audience such as Kiddy Kingdom and Planet Snoopy plus an indoor and outdoor water parks. Whether you take a day trip or decide to stay for a while (which get especially exciting with the September Halloweekends of Fun and Fright) this America’s Roller Coast just celebrated its 141 anniversary and offers entertainment for young and old.
For an unforgettable day trip, let Lake Erie carry you away on a journey. At Sandusky, board a jet-express ferry to Put-in-Bay with its Victorian-era village, a beautiful marina, cave tours and even a butterfly house. Sun-lovers will flock to the upper deck while others can stay in the air-conditioned lower lounge, but either way, the ride offers terrific views of Lake Erie keep your camera handy on this 40-minute ride. The island represents a close community of 400 dwellers, yet it boasts restaurants, pubs, stores, miniature golf, and plenty of family activities. (Jet Express and Put-in-Bay)
As it often is with a small city, there is a strong sense of community. Clevelanders are inherently friendly, upbeat and down to earth. They don’t think the recession drastically affected them because they had been through worse. Founded in 1796 near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, Cleveland became a big industrial center, but was hit by the manufacturing decline of the 1970. Nowadays it is making a comeback as a healthcare industry hub: the construction of Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center is underway. It is a city of people who weather everything from bad economic times to harsh winters with a smile, and have an indomitable zeal of life. They love who they are and where they are. And as the local saying goes, “If New York is a Big Apple then Cleveland is a Plum.”
Take a bite of it.